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Project Radbahn: Transforming Berlin’s U1 Into a Covered Bike Path

Since 2011 the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index has been the leading global ranking index for bicycle friendly cities around the world, and last year it ranked Berlin in the top 10 for the first time. This was thanks largely to efforts from coalitions like Volksentscheid Fahrrad (Cycling Referendum) pushing for greater sustainable transport and more bike-sharing programs in the capital city. Among the activist groups currently working to improve Berlin’s cycling infrastructure is paper planes e.V., a non-profit organization responsible for planning and designing the ambitious project “Radbahn”, Berlin’s first covered cycle path.

The proposed path stretches 9 kilometers underneath Berlin’s elevated U1 U-Bahn line, from Zoologischer Garten in the city’s west to Warschauer Straße in the east, and connects the districts of Charlottenburg, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain. The Radbahn concept briefing released by Radbahn Berlin (a division of paper planes e.V.) outlines plans to transform the cycle path into a public space not just for urban mobility, but also for eco-innovations and leisure.

A majority of the sections beneath the eastern portion of the U1 U-Bahn line are derelict spaces used for makeshift car parking. The potential of this unused space inspired Finnish entrepreneur and cyclist Martti Mela to first pitch his idea for a protected cycling path to architect Matthias Heskamp in 2014.

While biking to work Mela rode past the rows of parked cars beneath the U1 line when inspiration struck. “I realized the lane was wide enough,” says Mela, “and I wondered why this hadn’t been thought of before.” After talking to Heskamp, the two assembled a group of architects, cultural managers, geographers, and business strategists to quickly set upon the task of capturing “a piece of Copenhagen in Berlin.”

For the newly formed Radbahn Berlin team, it made sense to study the cycling infrastructure in Denmark’s capital for inspiration, as Copenhagen continues to claim the number one spot on the Copenhagenize Index year after year. Though Berlin is quickly advancing in the rankings, the German hauptstadt still requires years of civic development before it can compete with other top-ranked cycling cities like Amsterdam, Strasbourg, and Antwerp.

To that end, Heskamp sees the Radbahn as an experiment that will set a strong precedence for urban planning and transportation innovation in cities across the globe. “The rapid development of mobility issues will lead to a revolution in the next 30 years,” he notes. “Not only as a consequence of climate change, but also a change in values.”

Capitalizing on Berlin’s resurgent interest in green initiatives in recent years, paper planes e.V. presented their idea to the Berlin Senate in May 2017 in hopes of securing a government study to test the project’s feasibility. Despite earning praise and approval for study from the city council, project Radbahn has yet to receive any federal funding, with parsimonious skeptics citing the project’s 13 million Euro cost—to say nothing of the impact on motorized traffic—as a major consideration.

Even with the steep cost, Mela estimates that 80 percent of the infrastructure for the proposed Radbahn is already in place. “Some sections would require repaving,” he says, specifically in sections where diverting traffic and bridge crossovers are required, “but the groundwork has already been done. With minor modifications it could be converted into a bike lane.”

Thanks to its eco-conscious design, some of the Radbahn’s most promising features go well beyond protecting cyclists from rain and snow during their journey. The project designers also plan on incorporating various cafes, food truck stops, e-bike charging stations, beer gardens, and free service stations along the path for public use, transforming the area surrounding the bicycle route into a sprawling urban space that encourages leisurely activities and a more holistic cycling lifestyle across the city.

Additionally, Heskamp sees the Radbahn as the ideal space for testing other public works projects, including smarter traffic management. “We want to stop cyclists from racing and then waiting at the next traffic light,” he says. Instead, overhead displays inform cyclists of the optimal riding speed in order to keep hitting green lights at every intersection. In between these displays the design team wants to integrate an energy-harvesting technology that collects and stores electricity generated from bicycles rolling over pressure-sensitive pavement to power the overhead U1 train.

Though the Radbahn holds considerable promise for the future of urban mobility in Berlin, concerns over traffic interference as well as logistical construction constraints have considerably slowed the project’s momentum. With tentative plans to build a temporary showcase of Radbahn in 2019, the project team aims to boost public awareness and support in the interim so that their vision for a future-oriented cycling landmark in Berlin can be fully realized and enjoyed by all.

15th May 2018 0 comment
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The Relaunch of the Deutschland Tour

For a country that has produced some of the strongest riders in the pro peloton, from Marcel Kittel to John Degenkolb, Tony Martin, Jens Voigt, André Greipel, and Berlin’s own Simon Geschke, Germany has not hosted a national tour in over a decade. Prior to the country’s high-profile doping scandals that rocked the cycling world in the mid-2000s, the Deutschland Tour was Germany’s biggest multi-stage race, attracting pro riders from the Bundesrepublik and beyond since its inception in 1911.

With the dust of controversy now settled, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organizing body for the Tour de France and other UCI Pro races, is teaming up with Germany’s cycling federation — the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer (BDR) — to resurrect the Deutschland Tour later this year with a new concept: a holistic cycling lifestyle for all. From August 23–26, 2018, the four-stage, 2.1 UCI classification race will snake through Western Germany, from Koblenz via Bonn to Stuttgart over a total of 743 km (461 miles).

Scaled down from its previous nine-stage format, this year’s Deutschland Tour will also host a number of amateur cycling events accompanying each stage of the pro race, dubbed “Deine Tour”. For children and casual cyclists, the Ride Tour and Mini Tour offer the chance to roll down car-free city streets and learn fundamental cycling skills.

For more ambitious riders, the Jedermann Tour will take over the roads in and around Stuttgart before the pros start the fourth stage on Sunday, August 26. With multiple routes of varying distances and difficulties, the Jedermann Tour lives up to its name with offerings for riders at any level of cycling discipline. For the more regimented athletes, the NewComer Tour will test amateur racers’ stamina and grit along the pro course — to the victor go the spoils of fame and glory that only the country’s biggest cycling event can offer.

A contemporary of the original Tour de France, the Deutschland Tour remained the country’s most important cycling event throughout the early 20th century. The 1911 edition of the Deutschland Tour stretched a grueling 1500 km (932 miles) over Germany’s multiple territories and kingdoms. However, with no consistent organization or sponsorships, the tour saw little interest over the next 20 years, with multiple gaps separating race installments until 1931. That year signaled the beginning of the official “Deutschland Tour” and marked the start of its widespread support from the German populace. The tour remained a favored spectacle until European geopolitics at the start of World War II disrupted the tour’s organization.

In subsequent years, the tour’s acclaim was largely dictated by the success of German riders, peaking after Jan Ullrich bested French favorite Richard Virenque to become the first German cyclist to win the Tour de France in 1997. Ullrich’s victory shifted cycling’s popularity into Germany’s mainstream consciousness and brought newfound enthusiasm for the Deutschland Tour in 1999.

Watching the cycling landscape through the pink-tinted lenses of Telekom and T-Mobile’s team branding, Berlin finally played host to the national tour that year, which ran 1227 km (762 miles) to Bonn. The tour’s timing in May and June proved to be an ideal primer for the Tour de France in July despite simultaneously competing with the Giro d’Italia. While Jan Ullrich was unable to crack the leaderboard, his fellow Telekom teammates Erik Zabel secured first place in the sprint category while Jens Heppner won the overall classification.

Berlin would host the tour again the following year, when race organizers flipped the previous year’s course. After 2000, the tour would return to Germany’s western states for its longest uninterrupted run until its cancellation in 2008.

On October 16, 2008 UCI officials announced that the 2009 edition of the Deutschland Tour would be cancelled after doping allegations damaged the sport’s reputation. For German fans, the sense of shame felt most acute when Jan Ullrich, Erik Zabel, and other members of team Telekom/T-Mobile tested positive for blood boosting CERA, a third-generation form of EPO. Multiple organizations pulled their sponsorships in response, and marketing chiefs ultimately declared that they were unable to finance the Deutschland Tour. German cycling, it seemed, was headed for a long winter of condemnation.

ASO now plans to capitalize on Germany’s resurgent interest in pro cycling — particularly after the 2017 Tour de France Grand Depart in Düsseldorf — to usher in multiple new editions of the Deutschland Tour in the coming years. Doubling down on promoting an active cycling lifestyle for cyclists of all ages and disciplines, the revamped tour will either rediscover its footing in Germany’s cultural zeitgeist, or be once again tossed aside like an empty bidon flung from the peloton.

1st May 2018 0 comment
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Interview: Mess Pack Berlin

photo: Rene Zieger

One of the first events of this year’s Berlin Fahrradschau was a panel discussion about the future of fixed gear racing in Germany. For the uninitiated, a fixed gear crit (short for criterium) is a race on a closed circuit where everyone is required to ride a fixed gear bike. They are often held on city streets, with the popular Red Hook Crit series (held in Brooklyn, Milan, Barcelona and London) bringing particular attention to the sport.

Germany has a strong fixed gear racing scene with several well-attended races held every year, many of which are organised by Rad Race, who presented the Last Man/Woman Standing races on the Saturday night of the BFS18. There’s also a series of fixed gear races working together under the German Fixed Crit Series umbrella.

On the panel were 8 key people from the Berlin/German fixed gear scene, including Stefan Schott from 8bar, Benedict Herzberg from Standert, Ingo Engelhardt from Rad Race and Johanna Jahnke from East London Fixed. Chairing the panel was Hagen Lindner, one of the riders for Mess Pack, a Berlin-based bike team who race in crits all over the world.

Hagen, together with team mate Raphael were kind enough to share a few minutes with us to chat about the team, cycling in Berlin and fixed gear racing in Germany.

How did you guys get started?

Raphael: Basically, we all have a background as bike messengers. Not really in the same formation we are today, but the core of people who started the Mess Pack team was just a bunch of friends who worked together at one messenger company. It was a special company, kind of a collective, and we worked very closely together and organised things by ourselves. As a group of friends, we started to participate in small races and events, where it was just cool to have a team name or something we could call our own. That was basically where we started. That was about 4 or 5 years ago.

There first race we participated in was a Rad Race in Hamburg, in 2014, on the Heidbergring…

Hagen: …It was 2014. It was not under the name Mess Pack yet; it was after that we had shirts printed.

So, everyone in Mess Pack is or was a bike messenger?

R: Yeah. That was also part of the name Mess Pack…nowadays it’s changed slightly – a couple of people have moved to other cities, but we’ve also got new members involved and always a kind of criteria was that they have a background, or still work as a messenger.

photo: Rene Zieger

How often and where do you race?

H: It depends on the season, obviously, but actually from April to September there is a race nearly every weekend. It’s a bit slower in the Summer, but we also do road races in between. It’s most of the time around Germany. Most races are in the north/north-east of the country, which is good for us because Berlin is very close to most of them. We also do international races: some of us go to Red Hook. The first one is end of April in Brooklyn – two of us are going. Last year, a few went to Barcelona and Milan.

We also attend cycle messenger championships, German, European and worldwide – not all of us, but we try to go as often as we can as a team.

How often do you race in Berlin?

H: There’s the 8bar race, there’s the annual Rad Race. There’s the Standert Crit, which is new, so those are three bigger races.

R: There’s the fixed42, which is based on the Velothon, definitely one of the biggest races in Germany, and definitely the biggest in Berlin. (apparently the biggest fixed gear race on the planet – Ed). 

H: So this is the fourth race, and then…

R: …and then there are other small road races – not on fixed gear bikes –  around Berlin which we use for training. There’s a small series, in Märkisches Oderland, a region north of Berlin and there there are 5 or 6 races over the season.

Is Berlin a good place to ride? Is it a safe city for cycling?

R: When you have a certain background as a messenger, you would probably say it’s quite rough to cycle in most parts of the city. We are used to it, so it doesn’t affect us so much. There are definitely a lot of places where, for example, my wife would never cycle because it’s just too dangerous. Which is really not as it should be.

H: I think Berlin is pretty safe compared to many other big cities, the traffic is not as easy to predict as in other (North American) cities where there’s more of a grid system like New York, so it’s a little more hectic. I think as a messenger, you have a little bit of a different understanding of what traffic is, what’s dangerous and where to cycle. I, myself, cycle on the street, not on the bike path, which I think is often the safest place to be.

R: I think the main thing is, if you’re confident on your bike, and you feel like part of the traffic, then usually you’re fine. I think if you’re really anxious and you always stick to the places where you’re told to cycle, you could have trouble. They also often don’t take care of the bike paths very well.

What’s next for Mess Pack?

H: Tomorrow (Rad Race Last Man Standing) is the first race. Then I race a cyclocross race on Sunday, which is also part of the (Berlin Fahrradschau) show. That’s gonna be the last cross race for the season, which are usually in Winter. We also do a lot of alleycats, so there’s a big alleycat coming up in Hamburg, which I might do. Then the first road races start, then the fixed gear crit season starts with the 8bar crit. A week later, a bit north of Berlin there’s a two-day event called Steuerradtage, also part of the fixed crit series. And then there’s Red Hook Brooklyn.

photo: Rene Zieger

Cycling is a pretty male-dominated sport. How is it for the girls in the team? Do they get treated well?

R: I think that because many of the girls have a messenger background, that they’re also tougher than many and are used to claiming their space and fighting back a little bit. Recently at the 6 Day Berlin there were a few (sexist) comments said that were really unpleasant towards women, and made them feel that it wasn’t their place.

H: It totally depends on the race and who’s organising it. Most of the time we’re lucky because the fixed gear crit scene is from a background of messengers and people from the punk scene who have a certain understanding about equality – the races are more welcoming. That’s not only feedback from the girls in our team, but other female riders we know.

 Is fixed gear racing becoming more popular in Germany?

R: I guess so. The main source of this popularity is coming from the international scene. With Red Hook, which is a huge event, which also started small, but they put a lot of marketing into it. Those events got a lot of attention in the media, which had the result of many pro or semi-pro cyclists getting into the scene, which made the scene a lot bigger over the last couple of years. I think that’s a good and a bad thing – it brings more attention which allows people to stage bigger events, but the downside is that you have certain people who feel excluded because this started as a small, niche thing and it’s now getting more mainstream and professional. I would say yes, it’s becoming more popular.

H: …and it’s not necessarily growing. It’s becoming more selective. We’ll see different, more selective formats in the future…

R: …it’s got more professional. You can compare it to live music, if you have a band who plays in front of 50 people at a small club and everyone loves the band and the concert. Once it becomes a band who plays in front of 10,000 people it’s not the same band any more and it becomes difficult to keep the old fans and old vibe. That’s just what’s happening with the fixed gear scene.

How does someone get into racing fixed gear? Do you have be an athlete? A lot of people see bike racing as a sport for elite athletes and are put off getting involved for that reason.

R: That was exactly the point, say three or four years ago. Everybody just got into it and started doing it. I actually bought a track bike just because I saw the race on the car track. It was so much fun. There was no one wearing bib shorts, just racing in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt. I thought, wow, that looks like fun. That was my main motivation. Nowadays, because it’s so professional it might scare people off getting involved. That’s why there’s now a development to form A and B races, to make it more available and accessible to beginners, which I really appreciate.

H: I would say start small, go to local events, meet people, go to alleycats, race them – that’s always fun and it’s actually a race. It’s not on a closed track, but it’s cool. There you meet people you can start training with, go to other races with. Then just give it a shot. If you like it, you’ll grow with it. You don’t have to be an athlete.

R: In Berlin, there are a also couple of regular training rides. Every Thursday Standert Bicycles do a group ride. Stefan from 8bar just announced that he’s going to do one on Tuesday, so there are basically two to three days a week where you can do a group ride to just try it out.

Cheers, guys.

 

8th April 2018 0 comment
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